CORRECTION: U.S. credit card defaults stabilize

 @ibtimes on August 17 2009 3:40 PM

(Corrects third paragraph to show defaults fell to 13.81 percent, not 13.82 percent)

NEW YORK - The rate of U.S. credit card defaults showed signs of stabilizing last month, an indication that American consumers are in better financial shape than feared despite job losses and the housing slump.

Bank of America Corp in a regulatory filing on Monday said credit card defaults dropped in July after several months of a steep deterioration. JPMorgan Chase & Co , Citigroup Inc , and Discover Financial Services also said bad-loan levels fell.

Bank of America, the bank with the highest default and delinquency rates among the top credit card issuers, said its charge-off rate -- debt the company believes it will never collect on -- inched down to 13.81 percent in July from 13.86 percent in June.

It just seems to bear out what we heard in the second-quarter calls, that things seem to be getting marginally better -- and I would stress marginally -- on the consumer side, Nancy Bush, founder of NAB Research, said of Bank of America.

There's a seasonality concern. There's also a more legitimate concern that we're finishing up the first wave that was related to subprime and now we're going to get into the second wave related to good old recession losses.

Even more encouraging was JPMorgan's report that defaults fell to 7.92 percent from 8.04 percent for second straight month, while Citigroup's default rate declined to 10.03 percent from 10.51 percent.

Discover's charge-off rate fell to 8.43 percent from 8.75 percent.

Capital One Financial Corp bucked the trend, however, as its annualized net charge-off rate rose to 9.83 percent in July from 9.73 percent in June.

These reports come a few weeks after American Express Co sparked optimism for credit card issuers after posting a second straight month of falling defaults. AmEx said it saw the first signs of improvement for the industry in 18 months and stressed the decline in losses was not seasonal.

Some analysts have attributed the recent slowdown in defaults to seasonal effects, as Americans use tax refunds to pay down debt, and predict bad-loan levels will keep rising until later this year or early 2010.

We should expect to see some weaker trends ahead. The key is how much worse it gets. So far this month, I don't think it is that bad, said Chris Brendler, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus.

Credit card defaults usually track unemployment, which is expected to peak at more than 10 percent by year-end. It was at 9.4 percent in July.

Shares of Bank of America fell 3.9 percent to $16.73, JPMorgan fell 3 percent to $41.18, Capital One was down less than 1 percent at $34.87, Citigroup dipped 3 cents to $4.01 and Discover declined 3.2 percent to $12.08 -- all on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Juan Lagorio and Elinor Comlay; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Maureen Bavdek and Steve Orlofsky)

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